25 mai 2010

American fatalism

Try to guess who wrote the following quote :
  • a) an average movie-goer, determinist and conservative, opposed to cultural changes, indulging in a personal narrow anti-intellectual taste?
  • b) a cinephile-friendly veteran scholar, with the intellectual imagination to dream up a better system for a worldwide cultural diversity?
I know it sounds easy, but it might be counter-intuitive...

"Even the films that play festivals and arouse great emotion and admiration in the audiences will seldom break through into the mainstream. There simply aren’t enough of those art-houses. [..]
However much people decry the crassness of Hollywood—and there’s plenty of it to go around—or denounce audiences who only go to the latest CGI spectacle, the simple fact is that the market rules. Indeed, if there were a truly free market, we probably would see far fewer indie and foreign-language films. Film festivals are supported largely by sponsors, and the films they show are often wholly or partially subsidized by national governments. The festival circuit has long since become the primary market for a range of films that otherwise never reach audiences. [..]
Usually when someone calls for more support of independent or foreign films, there seems to be an implicit assumption that all those films are deserving of support, invariably more so than Hollywood crowd-pleasers. If a filmmaker wants to make a film, he or she should be able to, right? But proportionately, there must be as many bad indie films as bad Hollywood films. Maybe more, because there are always lots of first-time filmmakers willing to max out their credit cards or put pressure on friends and relatives to “invest” in their project. There’s also far less of a barrier to entry, especially in the age of DYI technology. [..]
There’s no way that every deserving film will reach everyone who might admire it. Condemning the crowds who frequent the blockbusters won’t help open new screens to offbeat fare. If someone loves Avatar, as long as they keep their cell phones off, refrain from talking, and don’t rustle their candy-wrappers too loudly, as far I’m concerned they can go on believing that this is the best the cinema has to offer. Simply showing these audiences a film like A Serious Man, say, or Precious isn’t going to change their minds about what sort of cinema they prefer. To break through decades of viewing habits, such people would need to learn new ones, which takes time and effort. People’s tastes can be educated, but the odds are usually against it actually happening."
Answer in the comments below.


20 mai 2010


Les 15 méthodes de "l'usine à rêves" :
  1. Le laquage de la réalité
  2. La mécanisation de la créativité
  3. Farder la réalité
  4. Perpétuation du "rêve américain"
  5. Illustration exacerbée de l'individualism
  6. L'exposition complaisante des frustrations
  7. L'ambiguïté idéologique
  8. La manipulation des émotions
  9. La falsification historique
  10. Une fallacieuse "esthétique"
  11. L'oppression de la femme
  12. Le racisme
  13. La mithridatisation de la violence
  14. La naïveté et l'invraisemblance des mises en situation
  15. L'inadéquation entre les sujets traités et la problématique du peuple américain
Guy Hennebelle, in Les cinémas nationaux contre Hollywood, 2004

"Le cinéma américain utilisant avec habileté les personnages clés du roman et du théatre du siècle dernier a créé des héros correspondant à sa vision violente et 'humanitaire' du 'monde du progrès'. Hommes magnifiques, forts, honnêtes, sentimentaux et implacables. Femmes indépendantes, maternelles, sincères et compréhensives. Sa structure de communication fonctionne grâce à une série d'éléments qui sont : l'utilisation du vedettariat, la mécanique des intrigues, la fascination des genres et des divers trucs publicitaires."
Glauber Rocha, in Ciné Cubano, n°52-53

"Cinquante ans après la Révolution d'Octobre, le cinéma américain règne sur le cinéma mondial. (...) Actuellement faire un film, c'est raconter une histoire comme on la raconte à Hollywood. Tous les films se ressemblent. L'impérialisme a donné naissance à un impérialisme esthétique. (...) Notre tâche est de nous libérer des chaïnes d'images imposées par l'idéologie impérialiste à travers tous ses appareils : presse, radio, cinéma, disques, livres."
Jean-Luc Godard

“If you live in France and you have written one good book, or painted one good picture, or directed one outstanding film, 50 years ago, and nothing ever since, you are still recognized as an artist and honored accordingly… People take their hats off to you and call you "maître". In Hollywood – in Hollywood, you’re as good as your last picture. If you didn’t have one in production in the last three months, you’re forgotten, no matter what you have achieved ere this. It is that terrific, unfortunately necessary, egotism in the makeup of the people who make the cinema, it is the continuous endeavor for recognition, that continuous struggle for survival and supremacy, among the newcomers, that relegates the old-timers to the ashcan.”
Erich von Stroheim, Eulogy for D.W. Griffith (1948?)

19 mai 2010

Red is the new Black (ironic)

Punishment Park (USA, 1971, Peter Watkins)


CopperCab (YouTube, 15 April 2010)


Born Free - M.I.A. (France, 26 April 2010, director Romain Gavras)


Notre Jour Viendra (France, 2010, Romain Gavras) Cannes 2010 Marché du Film

Ironic citation (live in situ)

15 mai 2010

"Auteurs" back in Public Domain!

The website mubi.com, formerly known as "TheAuteurs.com", after a couple year of "beta testing", finally figured out that they didn't hold the exclusive patent for the word "auteur" in America, and changed their brand to a less megalomaniac name!

They imagined that auteurism could be a capitalist corporation, and that slapping the logo "auteur" on their products would automatically make any movie, regardless for the effective control the director had on the whole production, a "film d'auteur". Film theory is that easy in the USA. You can buy yourself legitimacy if you don't have any. Gerald Peary even rewrites history in his documentary on American Criticism and made Andrew Sarris the inventor of auteurism! But when your audience doesn't even know that non-English languages exist, that there is a film press in other countries... you can get away with pretty much anything. So why not do it if you can.
That's how you destroy the cinephile culture in a country, to replace it with star-system fandom which every critics continue to feed year after year. They don't have no "auteurism" in Hollywoodland, the monster they've created is Actorism.

Pauline Kael didn't care about the proper theory, she had an auteur-radar in her guts. The Paulettes didn't care. And that's how you arrive at a cultural state where "auteurs" means "my favourite directors", "cinéaste" [French translation : filmmaker] means "cinéma enthusiast", "montage" [editing] means "metaphorical collage", "Tradition de Qualité" means "mediocre independent art films"... That's the kind of "healthy culture" they firmly believe they get. But if you don't do anything against the spread of deception, you get the cultural climate you deserve.

Last month I received a telling email from TheAuteurs, an impersonal publicity spam asking me to vote for them to win a Webby award (whatever that is). The visual was saying something like : "if you like Hitchcock, Scorsese, Godard, Kubrick, Renoir, Coppola... vote for our website" (or whichever well known auteurs of the same stature). So basically they don't expect to win an award for the work they authored themselves, film reviews, VOD distribution... they don't ask if we like what they actually do to deserve one, they just skip that part and go directly to the source and steal some of the fame off of someone else's hardwork. Clever marketing indeed. Nothing unusual. But it reveals a certain mentality.
It's like if the Academy awarded the Best Picture Oscar to Rotten Tomatoes for syndicating film reviews so admirably, and granting that film a 99% at the tomatometer! Way to go living off of someone else's success.
In China they say that if you point at the Moon, the fools will only look at the finger pointing at it...

Apparently they did win that award. I guess the fans did like the namedropping. And they wanted me to believe it was an obscur website with low traffic... Good job!

I had high hopes when they announced in Cannes last year to offer FREE streaming of films restored by the World Cinema Foundation. And when they accepted my project of a yearly roundtable to discuss important issues, internationally and collectively, called Epilogue. Unfortunately these were one-shot stunts to fill the "air-time" (which they are dedicated to pack densely and quickly). Doing these things once a year is more than enough, and they didn't repeat the exercise, or just forgot about it, which is worse. That is not the level of commitment towards Web 2.0, open access, and educational cinephilia I expected from this self-appointed "auteurist" source. But we have different priorities most obviously, and irreconcilable cultural barriers. Their loss!

Now by liberating yourself from the cumbersome legacy of "auteurism", you're free to go full blown commercial, without the guilt of calling it "auteurism". They will continue to link publicity stunts, press kit marketing and vacuous blurbs, they will sell VOD of whatever movies they fancy, auteurs or not, in the hope to become Netflix or RottenTomatoes.
Never underestimate the appeal of populism in American "culture".

Could have become the rebirth of SERIOUS, INDEPENDENT film culture online in the USA...

As long as American film critics won't do their job by taking into consideration the structural flaws of the system they feed, the international context they live in, they won't have a relevant presence in World culture. (Not that they'd care if they don't; it doesn't matter cause American Film Criticism is #1 in America!) While they would normally have the prerogative (because of the overall power of their film industry) to claim top spot in film culture as well... Only Hollywood is capable to truly influence the (popular) culture throughout the world. Why American Film Criticism can not?

Anyway, welcome back in the public domain to our cherished word "auteur"!

P.S. this kind of cynical provocation is not enough to shake up the complacent inertia that paralyzes the cinema intelligentsia. And by calling it "arrogance" and "elitism" (because sarcasm is too tough for the delicate nature of people whose job is to give a thumb up or down in a wink to months of hard labor) they will feel better about themselves and look away from the long-overdue necessary introspection that might shatters their illusions. That's also called "denial".

12 mai 2010

Maronniers cannois

Critic at work

This time of the year again... Le Festival de Cannes!

I can't wait to read what critics from around the world think about their hotel room, the color of their accreditation badge, the waiting time before the projection, the elitism of art films that lost touch with the mainstream entertainment-consumers, the lameness of the selection (so much worse than what they usually review every week on their domestic distribution market!), the length of the standing ovations, the number of screenings they walked out of, the made up controversies, the irrelevance of the palmarès, the trivia about the stars' little whims, the wildness of the yacht parties...

...anything to fill the void of film culture, the absence of criticism, and the blindness of viewers who ignore what to look at on the screen.

Abbas Kiarostami, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Jia Zhang-Ke, Takeshi Kitano, Hong Sangsoo, Lee Chang-dong, Manoel de Oliveira, Mahamat-Saleh HAROUN, IM Sangsoo, Wang Xiaoshuaï, Lodge Kerrigan, Cristi Puiu, Pablo Trapero, Christoffer Boe, Frederick Wiseman... more all the potential discoveries in the debut films.

This sounds like a good sample of the filmmakers creating the best cinema at the moment.
Not just this year (or this quarter, since Berlin and Venice take the other seasons of the year). Not a grandiloquent statement about the cinema of a decade, or the future of cinema. Not a comprehensive survey of the totality of the best films of 2010. Not a flawless selection without disappointments.

A festival is a showcase of great cinema, a good glimpse at the cream of the crop. You won't see that many films with excellence brought together anywhere else... and if you still feel like whining about something, you probably don't know what art means in cinema.

06 mai 2010

Second Class Film Distribution

If the audience was the first and only one voting for the popularity of films, I would trust the "invisible hand of the free market" (supply/demand direct self-regulation, if such thing is conceivable for cultural goods)... unfortunately, films are pushed into a niche depending on preconceived formats and speculations. There are films born under a lucky star, because they are engineered since the start to become an easygoing mainstream commodity that will fit all. Ultimately successful or not at the Box Office, they will enjoy the easy life, every step of the way, thanks to money and an influential protection.
Then there are the underdogs. Not only they struggle with a Spartan budget, and a less appealing final product due to cheaper production value, but once the film is all done, they also have to face a second class distribution that is sure to bury them. When you make an art-film, a challenging film, a non-conventional film (or even a commercial drama or documentary in a foreign language) the maximum audience base that it could reach in theory is already much more limited than any mainstream drama. This is an empirical fact : people interested in mainstream entertainment will always outnumber the art film scene. That's how humanity works, there is more demand for distraction than for pure culture. Nothing wrong with that, and we can't blame the press for not attracting enough public...
Even if admissions were free, and every potential viewer was available and willing, this maximum niche would still be in minority, even for the greatest films. In fact it is generally the opposite we expect. The movies attracting the most comprehensive audience are usually rather mediocre artistically. But it's OK. I respect this law of the market, each get the popularity they deserve. And art doesn't require the democratic majority to leave a mark in history.

However, what bothers me is when the market is forged artificially to favor a certain class of movies and intentionally undermines the self-limited success of other films. Even if this corruption of the system is more or less legal, by way of injecting amounts of money that smaller producers/distributors could never match, it is unfairly killing a competition that couldn't even claim a dangerous share of the cake under ideal conditions.

Why refuse an equal chance to reach the audience to all films? The audience will make a free choice and each film will get the audience share their popularity/quality deserves. Art films are not stealing any sizeable audience share from the big blockbusters, so why deny them an accessible distribution, for the sake of cultural diversity?

1st Class
(anything by major studios, mainstream appeal, formulaic format, TV-cast compliant)
2nd class
(Independent projects, Non-domestic imports, Documentaries, Short films, Experimental cinema)
  • Lose censorship board certification (complacent) Less restriction, bigger demographic allowed in
  • Harsh censorship board certification (discriminatory) more restrictions, smaller demographic allowed in
  • Comprehensive nationwide marketing, 2-6 months ahead (TV, mainstream press, radio, WWW, specialized press, billboards...)
  • Limited, regional marketing, 1 week ahead of release
    (specialized press, few blogs)
  • Quick release, scheduled far ahead
  • Delayed release, long time after the post-production is completed, always subject to last minute postponed date without re-scheduling
  • Public/commercial release
    open to everyone, everywhere
  • Discreet release
    Festival circuit only, for professionals, or at selected art-houses, cinémathèques, in capital cities only
  • Plethoric numbers of prints to flood the market on 1st weekend (>1000 prints) many version available for accessibility (dubbed, subbed, and original)
  • Few prints, circulated around on the circuit, degrading the projection over time.
    (only subbed version or original)
  • Worldwide simultaneous distribution
    (critical mass of screens, optimisaion of the initial marketing buzz, global zeitgeist vibe)
  • Local distribution
    (limited release, few cities, few screens, spaced out tour circuit)
  • Widest screens, largest auditoriums, best sound quality, proximity, accessibility
  • Smaller, older screens, tiny, older theatres, far away, poor sound quality, poor print quality (due to their scarcity)
  • Longer theatrical run if successful
    (most numbers of shows per day and per week and per year) Take-the-money-and-run carpet bombing that outshines everything else around
  • Expeditive, fragile theatrical run if survives the 1st weekend (1 or 2 weeks without special aids, or a dedicated commitment of non-profit oriented exhibitors)
  • Quick DVD release (to benefit from the theatrical buzz and marketing investments), marketing as big for DVD than for theatrical release (junket, TV, advertising)
  • Direct-to-video (skipping the public theatrical screenings) or DVD imports only (not distributed locally) or DVD release incognito (only mentioned in few specialised press, blogs)

At the very least, the standard ticket price, equal for every show and every film, is one of the most fundamental basis for the democratisation of film culture. It's not because they are rare that we pay more to see them. It's not because their budget is bigger than they charge us more. Unfortunately this equal footing at the box office is changing, with the 3D shows, the Imax shows, the gala screenings...

This alternative market isn't marginal because only unpopular or unsuccessful films are herded there. The commercial circuit is full of flops! And commercial flops get the same fair distribution scope as blockbusters.
The artfilm market is marginal because it is marginalised in its very conception, before the films get a chance to seduce an audience and become popular and successful and profitable. There are great art films, mass-appeal gems, that are buried in this second class distribution route just because they were not endorsed by the "commercial system".

All this contributes to make an originally small potential audience even smaller, by discouraging the expecting fans, by killing the buzz, by tiring out the anticipation, by denying visibility, by outshining its publicity, by giving a worse experience to the few who eventually make it to a screening.

The mainstream fans have it easy, everything comes directly to them without any effort.
The artfilm fans need a lot of efforts and patience and attention to catch the rare screenings available... when the films are available at all.
This is not fair.

Of course, film critics don't care about that, cause they have their private press screenings, junket invitations, gala screenings, they go to festivals, or more generally live in an active cinéphile city... these are privileges that the widest majority of their readers don't enjoy!

In a society supporting the development of culture and protecting its easy access, we should never let money become a factor in the visibility of work of art! Either because it costs more to make for the smaller filmmakers, or because its underdog distribution is treated unfairly, or because it costs more (in time and money and effort) to the audience to pick one film over another one. These conditions leave the market decide what type of culture gets a chance to touch and influence the population. Big studios choose what popular culture will be, and they choose to dumb it down. The cinephile culture is condemned, under these circumstances, to stay a rarity reserved to the elite and the privileged. It is a minority, but it shouldn't be a ghetto.

05 mai 2010

Imposture 2

Jean-Luc Godard & Anna Karina dans Cléo de 5 à 7 (1962/Varda/France)

Interview Jean-Luc Godard & Anna Karina, 20 après, chez Ardisson "Bains de minuit" (25 Dec 1987, La Cinq) extrait complet à l'INA 10 min 30 sec
JLG : Mais moi tout ce que je pouvais donner, c'est des films. Mais un film, bon, c'est rien.
ARDISSON : Alors c'est à cause de ça que vous vous êtes quittés, finalement? C'est parce que vous n'aviez pas assez à lui donner, peut-être, non?
JLG : Et puis je copiais. Je voulais faire comme... Je me disais, après tout, il y avait Orson Welles et Rita Hayworth, Sterbergh et Marlène Dietrich, Renoir et Catherine Hessling... Bein je me disais... moi aussi! Donc c'est un modèle, et puis on voit que après ce modèle permet de faire certains films et puis que les films après ont du mal à repasser dans la vie, et que ça a jamais bien marché.


  1. Needing TV to reunite with your ex-wife after 20 years : CHEAP
  2. Making Anna Karina cry : LOW
  3. Showing off on TV how you used your actress as a social access to a superficial model of celebrity, right in her face : PRICELESS (?)
Il ne suffit pas de copier les génies pour en devenir un.
Imiter c'est se tromper deux fois : une fois en recopiant mal, une autre en se perdant soi-même.

Voir aussi :

Forgotten Obsolete English Words #4 : Auteur

Well it's kind of a borrowed word from French, but it's not the definition in French language that is obsolete, it's the English rebranding.
Auteur : nom masculin. (Littré)
  • Cause première d'une chose. L'auteur de toutes choses, Dieu. L'auteur de cette guerre. Il est l'auteur de sa fortune.
  • Inventeur. L'auteur d'un procédé.
  • Celui, celle qui a fait un ouvrage de littérature, de science ou d'art. Il ou elle est l'auteur de ce tableau.
  • Principe, origine, source
  • English translation : author
Auteur : French, originator, author, from Old French autor, from Latin auctor (Merriam-Webster)
  • see : author
  • an artist (as a musician or writer) whose style and practice are distinctive
  • a filmmaker whose individual style and complete control over all elements of production give a film its personal and unique stamp. (Dictionary.com)
  • a film director regarded as the author of their films (Compact Oxford English Dictionary of Current English)
Author : 14th century. Middle English auctour, from Anglo-French auctor, autor, from Latin auctor : promoter, originator, author, from augēre to increase (Merriam-Webster)
  • one that originates or creates : source.

The dictionaries have it right! Why is impossible to get auteurists and more generally film critics to agree on a consensual definition here?

LITERATURE (for comparison with a less controversial art)
If you're the original creator of an œuvre, you're the author.
If you have your book written by someone else, a ghost, you're not the author.
If you compile citations and other stolen material, you're not the author.
If someone extracts from you oral stories in a faux-dialogue, you're not the author.
If you ask someone to write the dialogue for you, another the event timeline, another the descriptions, another the plot, another the character psychology... you're not an author.
If you rewrite an old book, you're a plagiarist, not an author.
If you paraphrase history, you're an historian, not an author.
If there is a team of correctors, editors, advisers, publishers, publicists, censors who rewrite, rephrase, redact, patch up, fill in, shorten/dilute, hype up, sensationalise, dramatise, or generally butcher up your work after you've handed out the manuscript and right before publication, you're not the author; you're not an author.

CINEMA (highly controversial art to date!)

Now apply this concept to cinema, keeping in mind that literature is a WRITTEN medium, therefore the literary writer authors a WRITTEN œuvre. An author of cinema, which is an AUDIO-VISUAL medium, does not author a written script but an AUDIO-VISUAL mise en scène (the quintessence of the FILM medium), which is also SPATIAL and TEMPORAL.
This personal style, this unique stamp, this filmic signature is a cinema-specific aesthetic based on (original) spacio-temporal formal ideas.
The subject is secondary, in film art, if it is not immediately translated into a typically cinematic form, i.e. mise en scène. (Barely mentioning political ideas in a dialogue, or using onscreen character's worldview as your own, never adds substance to cinema auteurism).
However, absence of politics and worldview never stopped painters who retreated into abstraction or pictorialism to produce a great œuvre. A great cinema auteur could make great art out of anything, any topic, any genre, any stories... precisely because auteurs express their medium-specific stamp through mise en scène, an original mise en scène they own.

Besides, movies can also be made without a real auteur in charge. Just like you can publish books without a real writer!