09 juin 2010

Double Standard - Film Comment (4)

What a coincidence! The following issue of Film Comment (May-June 2010) contains an apologetic editorial (self-persuading affirmative speech about the obvious dedication of the journal to cover the "beyond the multiplex" of cinema) and a ("long time overdue") article about... Experimental cinema! Well, well, well.

Last issue, the editor tells us how conformist and retrograde are the "festival films"... and look what he promotes this time : Metropolis, Breathless! Who is nostalgic of the past, who is channeling past glories now? Today's filmmakers or film critics? That's neo-journalism! Why cover contemporary cinema when you can indulge in the uncontroversial legacy from the past? If you feed the new generation of readers with oldies, don't you think that the new filmmakers will inevitably make films INFLUENCED by past styles??? That's double standard.

What else? Michael Douglas, Polanski, Mia Hansen-Love! These guys aren't guilty of the so-called "La Tradition de Qualité", right? They don't "neatly fit into these prefab formats" you warned us about? Is this the best alternative styles you could find? The youngest one on the list, Mia, is a self-proclaimed follower of La Nouvelle Vague, Assayas, Doillon! That's double standard.

Since when Film Comment decided that polls and best-of lists replaced written, articulated, analytical content? Is this your way to reach out to the teen demographic? List-mania is OK for the movie fans who can't do anything better than order their preferences in an easy-reading fashion. Not only the Avant Garde lists (4 lists no less!), but the whole issue is plagued with lists everywhere... Where are we? On Rotten Tomatoes? Is this where the post-crisis cinephile journalism is aiming for? To become more like the commercial press? Is this what moralizing critics resort to? What a great idea that was to lecture us about conformism! More double standard.

A consensual listing, ranked by popularity, gives already an arguable result for the mainstream cinema everyone has seen, where every voter has more or less seen the same candidates at least (TSPDT). But the same method is so inappropriate for Experimental cinema, which is so vast, so diverse, so difficult to compare, so disparate... and where every voter come in with a different set of films seen (let alone preferred), because they are screened sporadically. Only the films that MOST critics had the chance to watch, will make a list ranked by popularity... which defeats the purpose to defend the underexposed gems. What your list ranks is the "mainstream" of Avant Garde cinema, or the official Avant Garde endorsed and screened by the alternative circuit. Exit the Avant Garde too visionary, too subversive, too radical to find a patron or a projection...

From all the experimental films listed there, how many had a public release outside of galleries and the festival circuit? Making a long list doesn't mean that these filmmakers are welcome by the system, or that the films are seen by the public, or that the press is covering them. Surely a list isn't enough to put an end to this ostracism. I don't know who are the "naysayers" you're talking about, but the point isn't that Experimental cinema doesn't exist (we knew there was an Experimental scene alive and kicking in spite of everything), but that it is not supported by the film press and the public exhibition circuit. You can't use the fact this fringe manages to exist in spite of the cinema system, to prove that your magazine has anything to do with its survival...

I don't know Lewis Klahr, your featured experimental filmmaker. However, from what I could read, I'm pretty sure the article could use some Max Ernst's collage (1920ies!) and Roy Lichtenstein's mock-up cartoon (1960ies!) references, if you really want to be honest about the "prefab formats" and stylistic imitation of the past... Not to mention Virgil Widrich's Fast Film (2003). When Manny Farber was doing collage-painting in the 70ies, it was already passé for Contemporary Arts... This kind of omission is another double standard.

Sure, with double standard, it is easy to paint a negative portrait of the cinema you don't like, and a more advantageous appreciation of the cinema you like. But is this kind of journalism intellectually honest?

Read the full "the critic who cried wolf" saga here : 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5

1 commentaire:

HarryTuttle a dit…

David Bordwell : "Ten-best lists are nothing new." (9 June 2010)