26 mai 2009

French pronunciation

In relation to the article on Truffaut's La Politique des Auteurs (you can read it at the Indian Auteur website : part 1 & 2), I've recorded a MP3 for the pronunciation of these terms. Enjoy :

  1. François Truffaut
  2. Une Certaine tendance du cinéma français [A certain tendency of French cinema]
  3. La Politique des Auteurs [The Policy of Auteurs]
  4. auteur
  5. Cahiers du cinéma
  6. André Bazin
  7. Henri Langlois
  8. Les Jeunes Turcs [The Young Turks]
  9. La Tradition de Qualité [The Tradition of Quality]
  10. Réalisme Poétique [Poetic Realism]
  11. Réalisme Psychologique [Psychological Realism]
  12. La Nouvelle Vague [The New Wave]
  13. mise en scène
  14. œuvre [work of art/complete filmography]
  15. plan séquence [single-shot scene]
  16. montage [editing]
  17. découpage [cutting]
  18. ciné-club
  19. cinéaste [filmmaker; and not "cinéphile"!]
  20. cinéphile
  21. cinéphilie [cinephilia]

17 mai 2009

Seeds for wider diversity in American culture?

World Cinema Foundation (launched during the 2007 Cannes festival) press conference in Cannes 2009 (15 May 2009)
Kent Jones (General Delegate for the WCF) : "One thing that has a tendency to happen at times in film culture is that things can get insular. These initiatives are all organised to combat that. To get the word out. To make the films known, to get them seen, to get people talking about them. To create an online community that begins with The Auteurs*, that will come to our website.
As we know there are many films available for free, it's easy to see films... The idea of [showing restored prints] for free is to create awareness."

Martin Scorsese (Chairman of WCF) : "I just want to make a point, maybe it's more idealistic. Ultimately, the more the audience has seen these films, they more they want to see other films like them. And then what happens is the audience changes. Which means that movies that are being made around the world could change, cause there is an audience for special movies, for new movies, for a different way to look at the world. Not just blockbusters."
The Green Cine Daily interview with Scorsese and Jones (16 May 2009)
Martin Scorsese : "It's important for these film also to be seen. As an American, to see influences from other countries, other cultures, because it only enriches our culture."

* 4 films previously restored by the WCF and projected in the Cannes Classics program are now available for free online at The Auteurs (original language, subtitled in English), from anywhere in the world (which is quite an achievement in these days of DVD regions and Internet territorial restrictions for viewing!) :
  • Hanyo / The Housemaid (1960/Kim Ki-young/South Korea) restored for Cannes Classics 2008
  • Susuz Yaz / Dry Summer (1964/Metin Erksan/Turkey) restored for Cannes Classics 2008
  • Touki Bouki (1973/Djibril Diop Mambéty/Senegal) restored for Cannes Classics 2008
  • Transes (1981/Ahamed El Maanouni/Morocco) restored for Cannes Classics 2007
See introduction to this films written by godfather-filmmakers at the WCF website.

13 mai 2009

Critical Fallacy 10 : Insularity

Insularity is the tendency of critics to look outside their windows, without making the effort to look behind the corner if the weather is changing, let alone checking out beyond the horizon, on the planet cinema as a whole, to properly contextualize whatever aesthetic trends they come up with to qualify domestic "sensations", and speculate on cinema without any global perspective on the full production of this medium. One can always believe the world is gold when this world is limited to a predefined familiar self-indulgent turf, while ignoring everything outside that could challenge it, especially if it'd pale in comparison to better films, better filmmakers, better cinema
Jonathan Rosenbaum (The House Next Door, 2006) : "To some limited extent, film can be a road into other cultures and other parts of the world, especially considering how isolated America is and how disastrous some of the consequences of those isolations are. You can see that in the newspaper every day. I feel that I am ignorant about the rest of the world, but an obvious way one can at least start to learn is through seeing films from other countries. I think that is an attitude shared by many people that I know. There is always talk about how there is no interest in foreign films, but I don’t think anybody knows what the audience wants. [..]
One thing that has been important to me is in some way to experiment with form in writing, including film criticism. Getting involved with collaborations and exchanges with other writers has also been very fruitful. I have done several books in collaboration with others. Movie Mutations, co-edited by the Australian film critic Adrian Martin, was written by several people from around the world. It’s made up of various exchanges, letters, and so on. Most people’s concept of writing is that it is a very solitary activity, but this was a very social, communal way of working."
Jonathan Rosenbaum (2009) : "[..] this criticism is often found today in different places (i.e., on the Internet and much less often in libraries), that there’s considerably more of it (including academic stuff, omitted from Peary’s survey), that whether or not it’s American is of little consequence (though whether or not it’s in English is vital), and that it’s about many more films than anyone could have possibly had access to between 1968 and 1980."
It's time to realise that since Cinema is one quasi-united phenomenon (as seen at international festivals) therefore Film Criticism is also a one single discourse. Every critic talks about the same films. And English language criticism is hardly limited to the North-American media.
Adrian Martin (Undercurrent, 2006) : "On the general question of reviewing Australian films, I certainly think, for all the reasons that we've been saying, that a film reviewer's contract is with their reader. The contract is not with the film industry, it's not with filmmakers, it's not with the film funding bodies, it's not with the film industry in any way, shape, or form. In other words, the reader has to believe that I am telling the truth about what I felt about that film."

Julie Rigg (Undercurrent, 2006) : "We shouldn't run a sheltered workshop for filmmakers just because they're local."

Lorena Cancela (Undercurrent, 2006) : "There are few occasions on which we Argentinean film critics are asked to discuss our own practice or what we have said or written about this or that. In general, the main topic is New Argentine Cinema (but now if it is dead or alive). Sometimes we tend to ignore what our colleagues are doing, or we pretend that we don't care: 'everybody knows what the colleagues are doing, but nobody talks about it.' "
Personally I believe that the only accountability of critics is toward Cinema, the art itself, the abstract entity. If readers and audience are dumb and demand entertainment, flourish style, star ratings and thumbs up/down... I say critics don't owe them anything! It's the habits of readers that participated to the newspaper crisis, so if we'd listen to them the self-promotional studio publicists would have won, and Film Culture would be left to the pundits...

The problem of insularity is not limited to national borders and domestic production. Sometimes it gets even more refined, breaking up national cinema in smaller territorial niches, defended by their guardians, who justify their own existence by calling the adverse camp "contrarians".

The contrarian fallacy : Armond White vs. the Hipsters (Lost In Negative Space, 2006)

Jonathan Rosenbaum (Chicago Reader, 2000) : "No less typical was the refusal of the New Yorker to give even capsule reviews to either Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man or Andre Techine’s Thieves, two of the most important U.S. releases of 1996 and the two movies I wanted to discuss on Chicago Tonight. Neither feature was deemed important enough by its film reviewers, yet Dead Man was distributed by Miramax and Thieves by Sony Classics. I don’t think Sony Classics could be blamed for the New Yorker ignoring Thieves; that neglect undoubtedly has much more to do with an overall neglect of foreign-language movies spearheaded by Pauline Kael during her last years as critic there, something that’s become commonplace in virtually all mainstream magazines since."
  • see illustration here

10 mai 2009

Peary on American-centric criticism

In the latest issue of Undercurrent #5 (sporadic publication!) Chris Fujiwara Interviews Gerald Peary, who made a documentary on American Film Criticism (on the poster are ugly caricatures, including Harry Knowles of all reviewers...!)

See comments on this film by David Bordwell and Jonathan Rosenbaum

PEARY : Film criticism = "a profession under siege"
Sieged by who exactly? Readers don't care to read articles... that's not a war, it's free market baby. You might want to rephrase that in order to appropriately address the core of the crisis.

PEARY : "Mine is the first documentary ever to attempt a filmic history of film criticism of one country. May critics in other countries be inspired to make movies detailing their histories.."
If this 1h10 long documentary is the full history of American Film Criticism... then Le Fantôme d'Henri Langlois (2004/Richard/France) is as little comprehensive an overview of French Film Criticism in 3h30, from WW2 till very recently, interviewing most major figures alive.

FUJIWARA : "The question of what qualifies a film critic is a nagging one throughout the film. The rationale that seems to emerge most powerfully is that of John Powers ("getting paid") and Harlan Jacobson ("I got the job"). Such a response of course answers the question, "By what right do you call yourself a film critic?" But it doesn't answer the more important questions, which are, "What is a good film critic? What should a film critic be?"
"getting paid" and "i got the job" qualify any job you can think of! and it's not a pertinent answer to the question "By what right do you call yourself a film critic?" either!
If we're playing Jeopardy, the correct question was "What makes you an employee of film review pages?"
If you think getting paid to write on movies makes you a (rightful) film critic, you took the problem from the wrong end, the bureaucratic end. If we are talking about "right", a moral credential, a peer recognition, an achievement test, an intellectual authority in the domain of cinema... salary and employers have nothing to do with that. And the point of this "crisis" was precisely that employers replaced all critics and editors by unqualified reviewers!

PEARY : "Sarris was an overt auteurist, Kael a covert one, but between them they changed cinema into what is now widely regarded as a director's art."
Sure, and you call the French chauvinist? I know it's a documentary on AMERICAN film criticism... but when Cahiers made American critics rediscover their own American directors, it's ungrateful to so boldly overlook the role of Bazin, Truffaut, Godard, Rohmer, Rivette, etc. in establishing the status of the auteur, and American auteurs in particular!

PEARY : "the most appropriately valued American critics around the globe are people like Jonathan Rosenbaum, Jim Hoberman, who themselves have global perspectives about cinema."

FUJIWARA : "Knowles's remark might suggest that there is some underground of young rebel film critics who are occupying a similar position now to that which Sarris occupied in the 1960s, defending contemporary films that were despised by traditionalist critics because they were commercial films, genre films."
In principle, maybe. But that doesn't mean that any blogosphere pundit like Harry Knowles should be taken seriously just because their taste is somewhat subversive or anti-establishment... There is a lot of stuff outside the enshrined pantheon of acclaimed cinema... and most of it is deservedly rubbish. The underdog Truffaut challenged was a genius. There aren't many Hitchcocks in today's overlooked mainstream directors!

03 mai 2009

NYT with mini-balls

It's too rare not to mention. The venerable institution that is the New York Times finally shows some balls and takes a quick break from sucking up to Hollywood ! Are there actual critics in charge in this newspaper? As in critics whose job is to defend the liberty/diversity of cinema, not the other kind of "critics" with stars in their eyes when they talk about the industrial production. I had lost all hopes... This is a big day for American Film Criticism! Please keep at it, EVERY WEEK, until something changes in Hollywood! Thank you.

Memos to Hollywood (NYT, 5-3-2009) :

Manohla Dargis : "Foreign-film distribution in the United States is in a state of acute crisis: New Yorker Films, which released masterworks from the likes of Jean-Luc Godard and Ousmane Sembene, was recently forced out of business, and other companies are on the brink. If you don’t support off-Hollywood cinema now, it will disappear from theaters and sooner than you think."
* * *
AO Scott : "Did you notice the last election? People paid a lot of attention, took sides, argued back and forth. As they had, come to think of it, for much of the previous eight years. And yet so many of your “serious” movies tiptoe around areas of real public concern, trying to be vaguely topical while strenuously working to avoid offending anybody. As a result, nobody bothers to go see them. So why not risk troubling the waters a little bit? A lot of the audience likes to argue about movies and also about politics. Why not feed that appetite instead of suppressing it?"
* * *
Manohla Dargis : "The tripod is your friend. Few filmmakers can pull off florid handheld camerawork because most aren’t saying all that much through their visuals, handheld or not. (Also: Shaking the camera does not create realism.) Though it’s a cliché of contemporary cinema, fiction and nonfiction both, handheld camerawork that calls aggressive attention to itself tends to make empty images seem even emptier."

Well, I can't be totally happy, of course, because I'm a whiner.
I notice a pattern. The bulk of their complaints is scenario, scenario, scenario and cinematography. Apparently that's what critics find wrong with Hollywood. That's what they think cinema is.
They want polished genre, certain characters and not others, less violence, more censorship tolerance, less homophobia, more women, less of that actress, more of that actor, less plot twist, more of... of je ne sais quoi. Are they at the supermarket, or at the fast food of "make-your-own-movie-by-the-menu"? They relay the typical complaints that the average audience has been making for years. But is that really the concern of actual film critics???
Reading this, we'd think that all there is in a good film is a recipe approved by the audience, with the right ingredients in the mix...

Are there people out there who still care about the art in this commercial industry? Who talks about cinema with care for inspiration, intentions, message, worldview, understanding of humanity, aesthetics, mastery of the medium, production of an original visual language regardless for textbooks and conventions?

Well Hollywood wouldn't read these memos otherwise, and the NYT would cut the movie pages if it didn't promote weekly distribution...

01 mai 2009

Film Theory Branding

When did the last major movement arose in world cinema? Maybe we go through an epoch of individualism, maybe the time of ensemble momentum is over... Always more of the same, with slight variations in synopsis, star names and special FX budget. Even the names of all new pseudo-trends lack personality !

There are film critics who think they are writers, you know, wordsmith artists, poets ! (AO Scott is one of them, see also my previous post).
Well, I don't. In my humble opinion. I've said it many times before, literature is a minor aspect of criticism... What kind of theory branding would we get if these guys were bad at writing...? Our critics need to bribe their muse if they want to claim the divine inspiration of literary artists. It just proves that theoreticians are either unimaginative or that the trends in question are not original enough to deserved a complete name change. New movements always have to be compared to something that existed before, as if it was just a diluted/mutated continuation of the same old. Historians are conservative, always falling back on something known and afraid to call the future by its name.

When you look back at history, you need every period to stand out for itself, to be clearly identifiable, to have iconic names easily distinguishable among the endless list of artists throughout evolution of Art. We don't need distinct arts to share a similar name, soundalike, or even ambiguous.
There are various common blunders in theory branding : empty, generic, self-referencial, obsolete, ambiguous, relative or tautological terms. New-something or Post-something or Adjective-cinema... let's take a moment to free bash a bit the branding of film movements.


What is the name AO Scott branded the new emerging American trend? "Neo-Neo Realism" ! When a label is that unoriginal, it doesn't need a name of its own. At least "Mumblecore" shows an ounce of creativity (even if its descriptor is derogatory instead of appreciative; an aesthetic defined by its detractors?).
I know it was just the title of an article, not an official taxonomy, with as much authority as is expected from the "institutional weight" of the New York Time. Not only the direct reference to Italian Neorealism was far-fetched, but stacking neo's in front of existing labels is just laziness.
What is "new-new"? Is it better than "new"? What is a new version of an old trend that wasn't new anymore? Is it Realism 3.0 ? (Realism = 1.0; Neo Realism = 2.0) are we really at a place in History when we can affirm we've reached the 3rd era of whatever is "realism"? The new and improved reality... while everyone else around speaks of virtual reality. Forget about all your old overrated realism... only now do we get the real deal, the latest upgrade brought to you by the NYT.


Whether it's Neo/Nouveau/Nuevo/Novo/New... it says it's new, that's all. Nothing more.
This is a relative adjective. The effect of novelty is destined to wear off and get outdated. A couple years/decades down the line, after its extinction, the movement is not longer "new" and this word loses entirely its significance. So it's generally a bad idea to use "new" in a title for posterity, a self-centred, short term perspective consideration.
It is also a tautological adjective, meaning that it's only new because it says it's new. If you'd invent a new label, you wouldn't need to add "new" to make sure everyone understands it's unlike what we had before.
Examples : Neorealism, New Cinema, New Hollywood, New American Cinema, New Indian Cinema, New German Cinema, Nuevo Cine, Nuevo Cine, Cinema Novo, Novo Cinema, Neue Sachlichkeit/New Objectivity, Neo-Noir...

NB : Avant-Garde
This is a military term (one sufficient reason not to use it in Art history!), the vanguard, the troops moving at the head of an army. Again it's a relative term. It refers to artists ahead of their time, preceding the aesthetic changes of the conservative, mainstream establishment. But one is only ahead for so long, before getting caught up by the crowd, appropriated, digested and standardised. Besides it's an historical category defining a zone of production outside of the norm, and varies along with the progress of history. But it's not defined by its production, or by artists themselves. You're no longer part of the AG when you're not anymore innovator. The AG of today is not the same content/concern/conceptual reflection/modus operandi than what the AG used to be in the 20ies... obviously. Contrary to popular belief, it's not a group of people, or a cohesive movement. You can't say I want to be in the AG, like you could say you want to make a film Noir or a Soviet Montage film, which are clearly defined stylistically. You're part of the AG if your work deserves it, in regard to the artistic production (mainstream and marginal) in the world. There is absolutely no inner (stylistic, formal, content-driven) coherence among AG filmmakers.


What is Realism ? Or conversely, what isn't "realism" in cinema ? The concept of realism in the realm of staged production is absurd in the first place. Would anything else than documentaries tend to some form of realism ? Even most documentaries keep editing their way away from actual realism, allegedly for narrative improvement.
I know what is fiction. But to establish a scale of realism among rather-realist films is very subjective and tricky.
Why appropriate this word of the common language to redefine it with a narrow interpretation, highly connoted with specific stylistic traits that have little to do with off-camera reality? Why make everyone else refer to this appropriation ever after ? This is generally a bad idea to use a common word to brand a singular style.
Examples : Poetic Realism, Psychological Realism, Socialist Realism, Surrealism, Neorealism, Neo-Neo Realism...


What is Modernism? The problem is this word has already been overused in other disciplines, referring to eras that don't match. For historians, the Modern Era is between the XVth and XIXth century in France (and ending later for English historians in 1920); for Painting art it's between 1907 and 1960, for Musical art it's also the first half of the XXth century; Modernity in Literature is essentially the XIXth century and ends at the beginning of the XXth century. It's usually an opposition to the preceding establishment of Classicism.
In cinema, Modernity appeared in the mid-60ies and found its prime in the 70ies. Even French theory of La Modernité and American theory of Modernism don't quite agree on the scope and time frame of this aesthetic movement. To Jacques Aumont ["MODERNE ? Comment le cinéma est devenu le plus singulier des arts", 2007], cinema has never been "modern" yet. To Adrian Martin ["Que es el cinema moderno ?", 2008], modernist films are still being made today.
The adjective "modern" is a relative temporality, literally it means "contemporary". Since every period we live is "modern", the term loses any meaning as an identifiable time marker. It's confusing and it's NOT specific.
What is Post-Modernism? the post-present! building up on an already dubious term. Very informative indeed. Thanks nomenclaturists.


Everything and anything nowadays is called a "New Wave"... La Nouvelle Vague was one major movement indeed, but not to the extent of a normalised namesake franchise for every new generation, on and on, ad infinitum. It's a non-specific descriptor. It's a vague paraphrase for "new movement", thus completely interchangeable. It's a wave, OK, it's new, OK... but it could be anything, as long as it's a new trend of something, good or bad, short-lived or long-lasting. So when you call something a "new wave" it doesn't say anything about it. A name without purpose, without intention, without intrinsic self-explanatory definition.
Repeating "new wave" for every new generation in every country makes no sense. Please stop it with the "new waves"! Get to work guys, come up with your own unique name, so we can get a rich and colorful overview of cinema history.
Examples: Nouvelle Vague/French New Wave, Japanese New Wave/Nuberu Bagu, Argentinian New Wave, Romanian New Wave, Australian New Wave, German New Wave, Taiwan New Wave, Thai New Wave, Persian/Iranian New Wave, Czech New Wave, Brazilian New Wave, Hong Kong New Wave, British New Wave...


There are a lot of movements only defined by an adjective too. Obviously it's less empty than the above categories of brands. The adjective is there to qualify this movement, and eventually set it apart from the rest, if the word is specific enough. Again, a generic adjective, too often used in other types of films, will make this exclusive appropriation of a common term seem overreaching and confusing.
Examples : Free Cinema, Direct Cinema, Jeune Cinema; Impressionism, Expressionism, Realism, Situationism, Divism...